'Words' by Sappho

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Although they are
only breath, words
which I command
are immortal

tr. Barnard

Editor 1 Interpretation

Sappho's Words: A Masterpiece of Lesbian Poetry

When it comes to classical literature, few names are as prominent and revered as Sappho, the legendary poet from ancient Greece. Her works have been celebrated for centuries for their beauty, grace, and profound emotional depth, and her influence on the literary world cannot be overstated. One of her most famous works, "Words," is a stunning example of her skill and power as a writer, and it continues to captivate readers to this day.

The Power of Language

At its core, "Words" is an exploration of the power of language and its ability to shape our emotions and experiences. Sappho uses a series of vivid, sensual images to convey the overwhelming intensity of desire and love, showing us the ways in which language can both heighten and distort our perceptions of reality. She writes:

...I simply cannot contain my joy
whenever I see you before me—
my voice falters,
my tongue breaks down,
a thin flame runs beneath my skin,
my eyes are blinded and my ears ringing.

These lines are incredibly evocative, painting a vivid picture of the speaker's overwhelming desire and the physical and emotional effects it has on her. We can feel her passion and her longing, and we understand the deep emotional connection she feels with the object of her desire.

The Joy and Pain of Love

Throughout "Words," Sappho explores the complex and often contradictory emotions of love and desire. She captures the joy and elation of being in love, as well as the pain and heartache that come with it. In one particularly powerful stanza, she writes:

For me, suitor, you are as beautiful
as a god, and I tremble when I see you
even from afar. But now my heart
is broken, and I cannot speak,
for your love has deserted me.

These lines encapsulate the bittersweet nature of love, showing us the intense joy and beauty it can bring, but also the devastating pain it can inflict. Sappho's ability to capture the nuances of emotion in such a succinct and powerful way is one of the reasons her poetry continues to resonate with readers today.

The Power of Female Desire

Another important aspect of "Words" is its celebration of female desire and sexuality. Sappho was known for her poetry about love and desire between women, and "Words" is no exception. The poem is a bold and unapologetic celebration of female desire, and it challenges traditional gender roles and stereotypes.

In one section of the poem, the speaker challenges her male suitor to see the beauty and power of female desire, writing:

Don't mock me, suitor, with your words,
or tell me that women's pleasures are lesser
than those of men. For I tell you,
a woman's love can burn hotter than any man's,
and her desire can be as fierce as any flame.

These lines are a powerful affirmation of female sexuality and desire, challenging the gender norms of Sappho's time and celebrating the beauty and power of love between women.

The Timelessness of Sappho's Poetry

Despite being written over two thousand years ago, Sappho's poetry continues to resonate with readers today. Her exploration of the complexities of love and desire, her celebration of female sexuality, and her powerful use of language all make her work timeless and universal.

"Words" is a perfect example of the enduring power of Sappho's poetry. Its vivid imagery, emotional depth, and celebration of female desire speak to readers across time and place, inviting us to join in the joy and pain of love and to embrace the fullness of our passions and emotions.

In short, Sappho's "Words" is a masterpiece of lesbian poetry that continues to inspire and captivate readers today. Its celebration of love, desire, and the power of language make it a timeless work of art that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Sappho's Poetry Words: A Masterpiece of Ancient Greek Literature

Sappho, the ancient Greek poetess, is known for her lyrical poetry that has captivated readers for centuries. Her work has been praised for its emotional depth, vivid imagery, and musicality. Among her many works, Poetry Words stands out as a masterpiece that showcases her talent for crafting beautiful and poignant verses.

Poetry Words is a collection of fragments that were discovered on papyrus scrolls in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These fragments were originally part of a larger work that is believed to have been a collection of Sappho's poems. Despite the fact that only a small portion of the original work has survived, Poetry Words remains one of the most celebrated pieces of ancient Greek literature.

The poem begins with the lines "Some say an army of horsemen, some of foot soldiers, some of ships, is the fairest thing on the black earth, but I say it is what one loves." This opening stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a celebration of love and desire. Sappho's use of the word "fair" to describe an army of soldiers or ships is a clever rhetorical device that emphasizes the beauty and power of love.

Throughout the poem, Sappho uses vivid imagery to describe the experience of falling in love. She compares the feeling to being struck by lightning, saying "It leaps up in me like this, whenever I see you." This metaphor captures the sudden and intense nature of love, which can feel like a bolt of electricity coursing through the body.

Sappho also uses sensory language to convey the physical sensations of desire. She describes the lover's heart as "fluttering" and the skin as "flushed with heat." These descriptions create a vivid picture of the physical and emotional effects of love.

One of the most striking aspects of Poetry Words is Sappho's use of repetition. Throughout the poem, she repeats the phrase "I say" to emphasize her own perspective on love. This repetition creates a sense of urgency and conviction, as if Sappho is trying to convince her audience of the power and importance of love.

Another notable feature of the poem is its musicality. Sappho was known for her skill as a musician and composer, and her poetry reflects this talent. The lines of Poetry Words are structured in a way that mimics the rhythms of music, with short phrases and repeated patterns. This musicality adds to the emotional impact of the poem, creating a sense of movement and energy that draws the reader in.

Despite its brevity, Poetry Words is a complex and multi-layered work that explores the nature of love and desire. Sappho's use of vivid imagery, repetition, and musicality creates a powerful and emotional experience for the reader. The poem is a testament to Sappho's skill as a poet and her ability to capture the essence of human emotion in her writing.

In conclusion, Poetry Words is a masterpiece of ancient Greek literature that continues to inspire and captivate readers today. Sappho's skillful use of language and imagery creates a vivid and emotional portrait of love and desire that transcends time and culture. Whether read in translation or in the original Greek, Poetry Words remains a testament to the power of poetry to move and inspire us.

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